Monday, December 4, 2023

OP-ED | 13-11-2021 00:01

The tomorrow after tomorrow

Who wins and who loses tomorrow is far less important than what comes next for the country.

Election day finally arrives tomorrow with the accent surely on what comes next rather than what went beforehand (an entirely vapid campaign best consigned to oblivion) or on what happens on the day itself – for various reasons. Restraint here is dictated by the electoral curfew but even more by respect for the right of all readers to decide their vote within or beyond Argentina’s notorious grieta rift.

Respect for the voter’s independence also extends to not rashly prejudging tomorrow’s results where every outcome is possible – a repeat of last September’s PASO primary voting patterns, the opposition magnifying that triumph or the government turning it around. At this stage it seems pretty clear which of these outcomes is merely possible and which more than probable but in this century of constant surprises (the common denominator of both the last PASO primaries) few things are more surprising than the predicted. All that without overlooking the various nuances within the global result of complex nationwide multi-level voting – the government could at least whisper, if not cry victory if it wins a province lost in the PASO primary while the opposition entered these midterms with an exceptionally high bar from the last time in 2017 (not least in this city) which it might not always manage to hurdle. But who wins and who loses tomorrow is far less important than what comes next for the country.

The current situation is so complex that victory tomorrow would not necessarily make life easier for the government nor defeat harder. A Frente de Todos win would be a mandate for continuity but also for the runaway spending which reversed their PASO defeat, potentially aggravating inflation – a fragmented coalition would also need to define its approach to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the next few months.

A harsh midterm defeat for the government tomorrow (which would be the verdict even if the PASO results were merely repeated with no lack of forecasts that they will be far more adverse) would certainly be traumatic and nor should its importance be minimised as potentially marking the end of an era but it might not be so dramatic in a shorter term. If most opinion polls are upheld by tomorrow’s voting, this will be the fourth midterm defeat running for Kirchnerism in a streak stretching back to 2009 so they have ample experience in taking it in their stride even if the formulae for reinventing themselves (with a proxy presidency as the latest) become ever trickier.

The most immediate problem for the government would be a hostile Congress, should that materialise tomorrow, but Argentina has never been a parliamentary democracy – rule by presidential decree is an institutional option at least although politically difficult. The opposition might well leave them no other choice because they have thus far answered all co-government proposals of bipartisan agreement anchored on Congress with the argument that the ruling coalition first needs to agree within itself while also suspecting a strategy for co-opting them into unpopular corrective measures for which they will eventually be blamed.

But if not the opposition, who else to give substance to a presidency largely shorn of credibility? The Spanish language has various expressions for the powers that be and vested interests (poderes fácticos and factores de poder) but these days they are more “the powers that were.” Without exception, the traditional movers and shakers of Argentine history and the pillars of Peronist corporatism have lost huge ground in recent decades – the armed forces first but also the depleted trade unions, big business increasingly dependent on a crisis-stricken state, the Catholic Church and the overrated “league of governors.”

The question “What comes next?” should perhaps be rephrased as “Who comes next?” because the field is wide open for new players. This also applies within the main coalitions whose future protagonists may not be exactly new – the Radicals are pushing for a much bigger role within the Juntos opposition while eternal Peronists who have seen such mastheads as Isabel Perón and Carlos Menem fade away into history might well be anticipating the same for the Kirchners. Beyond the coalitions, social movements are displacing the trade unions, there is the upsurge of libertarian youth and new players are multiplying all the time.

Perhaps the title of a fictitious Nazi youth song (from the film Cabaret) might not be the most fortunate wording, but readers should go to vote in a spirit of “Tomorrow belongs to me.” At least your ballot does.


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